4 Disasters That Couldn't Have Happened Anywhere Else

Looking back on your life, you can see how the places you've lived have shaped you into the person you are today. If, for example, you're from New York City, you might give a condescending huff anytime someone from another part of the country complains about "traffic" or mentions "fashion" or praises a "bagel." News flash, New Yorkers: Idahoans can eat bagels too!

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"Search AskJeeves dot com for how to bagel."

In the same way that people are molded by their hometowns, important events can't be divorced from the places where they happened. Sometimes geography itself becomes the Overlook Hotel of history.

#4. The Manson Murders Could Have Happened Only in California

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A few world-changing events happened in the summer of '69: Hippies had their shindig at Woodstock, a man walked on the moon, 9-year-old Bryan Adams was probably a solid year or two away from getting his first boner, and in Southern California Charles Manson and his band of drug-fueled acolytes horrifically murdered eight complete strangers in the hopes of starting a pseudo-apocalyptic race war. (It didn't work.) Without getting knee-deep into the horrific, grisly details that surrounded the actual killings, the key to remember about what became known as the Tate-Labianca murders is that Manson himself didn't commit them. His followers did, under his guidance and insane instructions. The other thing to remember is that Mr. Manson couldn't pull this shit off anywhere else in the world. Not a chance.

Why Location Mattered


Take a guy like Manson and plop him down in regular ol' middle America, and he's just a crazy guy with a wonky eye and a motormouth. In fact, Manson was a run-of-the-mill screw-up his whole life -- in West Virginia; Ohio; Indiana; Washington, D.C.; and Florida. But then something happened -- he was arrested in California. And it was California that put Manson in prison for seven years in the 1960s, and California where he was paroled in 1967.

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He was free only for about 33 months.

This is where things take a turn for the Satanic. California, for all its liberal leanings and laid-back vibes, has been a hub for fringe religious cults for decades. Jim Jones and his ill-fated Peoples Temple followers were headquartered in San Francisco. Children of God, the weird sex cult that River Phoenix's family belonged to when he was a kid, was started in Huntington Beach, California. Branch Davidians: California. Remember those guys who killed themselves to reach an alien ship traveling on the Hale-Bopp comet? San Diego. Scientology? Southern California. Finding a cult that didn't get its start in California is like finding a silicon breast implant that didn't end up there.

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Enjoy the fresh air while you can, little pre-boob.

Not only was/is California "Cult State, USA," but in 1967 California was also home to tens of thousands of disenchanted young hippies looking for their slice of the counterculture pie. So what do you get when you mix a two-bit pimp with America's runaways in a bowl primed for fringe religious movements? Sadly, eight murders that made no sense.

After all, Manson wasn't the brightest guy on the block, as IQ tests later confirmed. And he didn't have many original ideas -- his whole message was a garbled amalgamation of other people's writings -- everything from the Book of Revelation, his weirdo interpretations of Beatles lyrics, and the self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People got thrown in the Manson sermons. It just so happened that his audience was composed of young girls too naive and too drugged to notice he was spewing complete nonsense.

You'd think the flying gestures would have tipped them off.

#3. The OxyContin Epidemic Started in Appalachia for a Reason

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Quick question: What's the scariest drug in the whole world? First answer: the love of a good woman. Second answer: heroin. If you know anything about drugs, it's that anyone doing heroin is at the end of their line, and not just because Trainspotting, Breaking Bad, True Life, The Wire, Gia, Little Miss Sunshine, Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Ray, jazz music in general, and the future Janis Joplin biopic tell us so. There's "Oh, I'm sorry about your drug problem" drug addiction, and there's "I'll start writing the eulogy that will be given after your inevitable overdose" addiction, and heroin falls in the second category.

Not even fairytale heroines are immune to heroin.

Heroin was the king of Addiction Mountain until the prescribed opioid painkiller OxyContin came along in the late '90s. Suddenly, a bad back, tooth extraction, or particularly heavy menstrual cramp could get the sufferer a doctor-approved prescription for drugs so powerful that they could be compared only to heroin, especially when abusers figured out how to snort and inject them. By the early 2000s, OxyContin had a nickname: hillbilly heroin. And Oxy didn't get the "hillbilly" part of its nickname because the pills grew up in a double-wide or wore tiny overalls. That would have been awesome, though.

The nickname "hillbilly heroin" came about because the rural counties of Appalachia were the first to get eaten alive by pill addiction. By 2001, Kentucky, Southern Ohio, and West Virginia were all facing an epidemic that made the crack panic look like a whack panic. (Sorry.)

Why Location Mattered


Have you ever spent a 12-hour workday on your hands and knees? Don't answer that, down-and-out prostitutes. For the generations of men who have no other way to earn a living but to rip minerals and fuel out of the depths of Earth itself, chronic pain and traumatic injuries are inextricably linked to putting dinner on the table. So, for years coal miners relied on medication just to keep their bodies on the job. Even after the mines dried up, the pro-pill culture was already decades old. Pills were good. Pills helped. Pills kept dad working and grandpa alive until black lung took him down in the end. What choice was there? Like Tommy Lee Jones said in Coal Miner's Daughter, when you lived in Kentucky the choices were "coal mine, moonshine, or move on down the line."

Universal Studios
Tommy Lee went with all three.

Fast-forward to 1995, when Purdue Pharmaceuticals claimed they had a new pain pill that was less addictive than anything else on the market. To get their new product into the right hands, Purdue aggressively marketed OxyContin to doctors in regions where the economy ran on manual laborers -- loggers, miners, construction workers, a few fruit-pickers named Manuel.

There were two problems; once users figured out how to obliterate the drug's time-released formula by snorting it or injecting it, all promises that OxyContin was less addictive went out the window with the unattended Oxy babies. The other problem was Florida. By the time coal country had a clue that maybe Grandma shouldn't be self-treating her arthritis by injecting her hand with crushed pills, it was too late. Florida had the loosest prescription laws on the books, no oversight, and were more than happy to set up pill mills to keep everyone else medicated. Suddenly, you could pick up pills without prescriptions from the same strip mall where you get your payday loans and eat questionable Chinese food.

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"I'm so high right now!"

The good news is that after the CDC declared that painkiller overdoses had hit epidemic levels, the government and the pill companies started getting their act together. Florida got a crackdown on pill mills, and Purdue changed its formula so OxyContin can't be crushed for the one-time high. The bad news? Heroin is on the rise again.

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Kristi Harrison

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